16 Jan 2022
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The Gospel. St. Mark i. 1. - The Baptism of Jesus
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judæa, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; and preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost. And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him: and there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Have you ever said or heard, “I’ve had an epiphany”? The word epiphany literally means “manifestation of the divine,” but it has come into general use to mean an intuitive perception of reality. When you suddenly realize what’s going in your life, that’s an epiphany. It can happen anywhere anytime and change forever how you see yourself and others.
In the Church, the season of Epiphany is marked by three events in Jesus’ life. The first one we are all familiar with is the coming of the three wise men. By fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies for the humble family in Bethlehem, the workings of God were made manifest in Jesus for the first time. The nations represented by these three Magi discovered that the son of God had indeed been born. Beyond the three wise men, there is Jesus’ miracle at the wedding feast in Cana when He turned water into wine, a foreshadowing of Holy Communion. And in this way, His disciples came to believe in Him. The third epiphany event is the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, the subject of our Gospel today.
The baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ teaching and saving work. Water had been there at the beginning of the creation; it really is the beginning of our world and life here. Water had cleansed the world of evil in Noah’s flood. Water had provided protective walls at The Red Sea for the children of Israel as they fled from slavery in Egypt. The waters of the Jordan had parted as Joshua led them into the Promised Land. It had parted for the prophets Elijah and Elisha too. Now, with Jesus’ coming to the river, John the Baptist, the Forerunner has a frightening task. He knew who Jesus is! He had known from his mother’s womb! The baby John had leapt when Mary came to visit already holding Jesus in her womb! He told Jesus that it is rather he who needed Jesus’ baptism than the other way around! Jesus is the divine Son of God and is without sin. John’s baptism was one for a sinner’s repentance, so this baptism would have to be different: Jesus accepts His baptism by assuming our sins. John places his hand on the Divine head and baptizes Him. In St. John’s Gospel, John the Baptist proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.” Though we here in the ACW hadn’t been born yet, He covered our sins as well.
But there is more to learn from this Gospel message. The Holy Spirit descends as a dove from heaven. The Father’s voice rings out, “This is my beloved Son.” The Holy Trinity is thus made manifest without any possible confusion! Only one other time will Scripture reveal the Holy Trinity in this way—at the Transfiguration just before the Crucifixion—an act of mercy to encourage the disciples and us in our Faith.
The Feast of the Epiphany is also called the Feast of Illumination because we are enlightened by what takes place in the Gospel. We will never be the same having realized what God in His Son has done for us. It is important too that we consider what our own personal baptism has done for us. By it we realize that we are the adopted children of God! Through our baptism we have renounced the devil and all of his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, all covetous and other sinful desires as our rite of Holy Baptism states in the Book of Common Prayer. We are re-created in our baptism and are dead unto sin, promising to live unto righteousness, buried with Christ in His death, and partakers of His resurrection. If we live up to these promises we with the rest of the church will be worthy of the everlasting kingdom. This is the promise at the very heart of our Faith.
We certainly wonder at Jesus’ perfect humility in the baptism. In the world today, even among Christians, humility is a value little cherished. It is relatively rare to see a politician, an athlete, or Hollywood star show modesty. There was a time when young children were honored for modesty and humility but no longer. All of our public places are filled with violence because of the people’s arrogance. Jesus said, “Whoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (St. Matt. 23:12) We need to remember that it is our humility alone that moves God to show us mercy, and we desperately need His mercy! Our greatest model of humility must ever be Jesus Christ, the Son of God: though without sin, he was baptized by John the Baptist to give us a chance to free ourselves from sin. Let us seize that opportunity starting today!
Bishop Edwin Tompkins